Kevin Collins spent 28 years (1977-2005) as an NHL linesman, dropping pucks, blowing a whistle, and pulling apart some of the game’s biggest brawlers in an era when working the lines many nights was tantamount to being a nightclub bouncer.
Now closing in on his 70th birthday, with a hip and shoulder scheduled for surgical repair, Collins is leading a somewhat quieter life.
Perhaps not as physically demanding, but it’s often busier, and certainly longer work hours, than his days racing from one end of the ice to the other.
“I’m just the doorman,” Collins said the other day, reached by telephone at his Mass Alternative Care, Inc. headquarters in Chicopee “That’s all I do … let people in, let people out … I’m the greeter.”
Actually, the new job is substantially bigger than Collins’s ever-intact humility. He is president, CEO, principal owner, and clerk of the works of MAC, the marijuana-based enterprise that today employs some 60 workers in Western Mass., after making an unconventional career pivot that led him to retire from the NHL in 2013.
At age 62, with his finances and retirement on solid footing, his kids educated, and life as smooth as a pristine sheet of ice, Collins swapped it all for an entrepreneurial dance with marijuana.
First, of course, he had to scrape up $10 million to get the enterprise off the ground.
“Yeah, that was a trip,” he said.
And the trick to it?
“Talk to 1,000 people!” said Collins with a hearty laugh. “Again, that’s just how I do things, I guess … if I’m in, I’m all in. I tell people all the time, I used to own my house, I used to own my condo, I had no debt, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Now I don’t own anything. No money in the bank. I cashed in my 401ks, and … ”
And now he has the few odd thousand cannabis plants growing 24/7/365 inside a single-story manufacturing plant that is but a short skate away from the Chicopee River.
All in all, it’s a twist to Green Acres in Hampden County. Goodbye, hockey life, and hello flower, grow rooms, the science of plant DNA, and a $45,000 monthly electric tab to operate the warming lights that make the garden grow.
MAC’s annual crop, Collins reports, weighs in upward of 4,500 pounds of cannabis that the company fashions into a diverse range of products for medical and adult (i.e. recreational) use. The company is about to close on a deal to add a second building in Chicopee aimed at increasing total production by four- or five-fold. It’s a weed business that’s growing like one.
That’s maybe 20,000 pounds to help cure what ails ya, or turn on, tune in or drop out. During his lifetime, Collins has seen marijuana go from being a ticket to a lockup and rap sheet to a legalized over-the-counter aid that can ease pain or anxiety, or otherwise floats your boat. All in the Bay State, where our blue laws once ordered nearly everything closed on Sunday except houses of worship.
The good and bad of legalized marijuana, of course, remains open for debate in perpetuity (see: fighting, hockey). Collins obviously is a fully invested believer.
“It was taboo,” he said, thinking back only as far as 2013, when he and sons Chris and Kevin decided to take on the business as a family enterprise. “You had to be careful when you told people what you were doing, but in seven years, it’s quite the acceptable product. It should be. It works.”
Society’s ongoing battle with opiate addiction, one that has been a particularly devilish struggle in many New England communities, makes one of the strong cases for the industry, noted Collins.
“We all have too many friends who have kids, or people we know, who got involved in the opiates, all the addiction and everything,” he said. “It’s sad. We are all tired of going to funerals of young people, in their 20s or younger. Marijuana definitely works as a substitute for that.”
Currently, MAC’s lone retail facility (where the CEO/doorman can be found nearly every day) is on-site at the Chicopee headquarters on East Main Street. Space also has been acquired for another retail operation to open soon in Amherst. MAC holds a license for a third shop — the maximum allowed in the Commonwealth — in Lee.
Son Kevin, 43, is a Bentley grad and handles the company finances. Chris, 38, a WPI grad, is the grower, the brewmaster sans the keg. Dad’s job mainly is to make sure it all works, that the growing keeps growing, a role he believes is akin to being GM of an NHL team.
“The GM knows about the game, knows the players and everything,” he said. “He doesn’t score any goals or make any checks, but he picks the right people, puts them in the right places, and builds his team. That’s what I do. When we hire, I make sure we get the best people available in each department and build the team.”
Collins grew up and still lives in Springfield with wife Mary, who has found MAC gummies helpful for her bad back.
“My two kids talked her into it,” Collins said. “Now she’s after me, because I’ve got pains, and she says, ‘You got me into it — why aren’t you into it?!’ Not yet.”
Collins was 20, playing at AIC in Springfield, when he first started officiating youth hockey for $2 a game (slightly above the minimum wage) in 1970. In the NHL, he was a constant, respected presence on the ice and set the standard for linesmen. He worked 1,964 regular-season games, 296 more in the playoffs, a workload that included 12 Stanley Cup Finals.
In 2017, four years after retiring from an NHL supervisory role in which he helped to identify and recruit future on-ice officials, he was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame.
His career path has taken him from ice to earth, and he is convinced the latter will be a legacy stop.
“It’s like having a new kid, I’ve grown up with it, gone through it,” Collins said. “We’ve built a future here for my two kids forever. I think my two guys will stay in the industry long after I am out of it and gone, and I’ll be proud of that.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.